Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's Time

“The free thinking of one age is the common sense of the next,” said the 19th century critic and poet, Matthew Arnold. Could it be that America’s 20th century War on Pot, which costs $10 billion a year and has achieved nothing but the creation of a prosperous, crime-run, underground industry and the incarceration of millions – 873,000 in 2007 alone; 738,900 just for personal use – is finally coming to an end? I’m heartened that common sense about marijuana may prevail now, in response to our economic crisis – just as alcohol Prohibition was repealed in 1933 as a common sense response to the Great Depression. In critical times, we should stop sweating the small stuff and get our priorities (you should excuse the expression…) straight.

The argument for legalizing marijuana is getting stronger, thanks to support from increasing and surprising quarters: Harvard economy professor Lester Grinspoon; several congressional representatives, including California’s Loretta Sanchez and Massachusetts’ Barney Frank; Dave Cieslewicz, the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin; conservative columnist Kathleen Parker; and thousands of medical doctors who highly praise the benefits of medicinal marijuana. It is estimated that our country would save $77 billion annually by taking pot off the criminal agenda. It is also assured that billions more could be generated through licensing the sale and taxing the purchase of recreational pot and marijuana accoutrements. There would also be enormous industrial benefits; hemp is an inexpensive, highly versatile commodity.

Most important, changing our fear-and-ignorance-based attitudes about pot would allow for greater political, judicial, economic, and social focus on truly dangerous, addictive drugs like heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, and the entire haute collection of designer drugs. Addiction is a genuine problem – but pot is not the culprit. America has been brainwashed about the dangers of pot for nearly 100 years with lies such as “marijuana leads to the harder stuff” and “marijuana will make you insane.” Not true, never was. Hundreds of thousands of deaths each year are directly related to the use of alcohol and tobacco. The number of deaths attributed to pot: zero. Yet more people are arrested and convicted for the use and/or sale of marijuana than for all violent crime combined: murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. It’s time to wake up and smell the reefer!

It has been argued that making pot socially acceptable and both legally and readily available, will “send the wrong message to kids” and encourage the lethargy and lack of ambition/action accurately associated with pot smoking – but it ain’t necessarily so. Society makes clear distinctions between acceptable social drinking and pathological drinking, the kind that leads to alcoholism, violence, drunk driving, and dysfunctional personal and family life. Business started frowning on the three-martini lunch decades ago, but the after-work cocktail is still in vogue. There’s no sensible reason to believe that with proper restrictions and creative, appropriate marketing, marijuana use would not be properly controlled. In addition, the impact on children should not be the sole arbiter of all adult privileges and behavior. And although alcohol and cigarettes have been proven to be more dangerous and harmful than pot, nobody advocates criminalizing them – just taxing their users to the max for the greater benefit of society!

People want and need to feel good, to feel better, and they use a variety of substances – alcohol, cigarettes, food, all categories of drugs – as well as an assortment of behaviors, such as compulsive-level gambling and shopping – to “feed your head,” as we used to say in the 60s. Humankind has always done this and efforts to criminalize pleasure have always failed and often resulted in new, genuinely dangerous forms of crime. To continue in this manner is just plain stupid.

As I said recently on this blog, we as a nation would get better faster if we would just grow up. Legalizing pot would be a good start. Each year, about 20 million Americans try pot for the first time or use it occasionally; 11 million are regular users. According to a poll by Zogby International, 44% of Americans support legalization already, and the battle for pot has just begun to gain traction with the general public. It’s time to let grown-ups smoke a joint or take a bong hit without being viewed as degenerates and treated like criminals. It’s time for 21st century common sense to prevail about pot.

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